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To Give Anything Less

by Ethan Tussey

by Scott F. Parker for IN MEDIA RES

The first American distance runner since Curtis Stone sixty years ago to win both the 10,000m and the 5,000m at the Olympic Trials, Galen Rupp set Trials records at both distances. The result in the 10,000 came as no great surprise; Rupp holds the American record at that distance. He ran 26:48 last fall, improving his personal best by over twenty seconds, and obliterating Chris Solinsky’s old record by eleven-plus seconds. His record-setting race at the Trials was a much slower 27:25 in rainy Eugene, but the fact that he can slow by half a minute and still set a record demonstrates how far he’s taken the 10,000m race. For perspective, though, in his breakthrough race, he was still five seconds back from the winner Kenenisa Bekele, whose world record is a blazing 26:17. Rupp’s 5,000 race at the Trials was the bigger story. Running at what has not been his signature distance, he out-sprinted the field in the final lap to take .13 seconds of the Trials record, held for forty years by Steve Prefontaine. It’s only a matter of time when talking about American track before Prefontaine’s name must be spoken. When he dominated the sport in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s he held every American distance record up to 10,000m; his 5,000m Trials time of 13:22.8 was one of his last records still standing. It’s appropriate that Rupp be the one to break Pre’s record. Both he and Pre grew up in Oregon and ran for the University of Oregon, each winning multiple national championships and enjoying the full embrace of Eugene’s passionate and knowledgeable track fans (although Pre’s bond with the fans was of another order). Each also became his respective era’s marquee distance runner. There’s great pressure on Rupp to live up to Pre’s legend, but if he does so it won’t necessarily be by winning gold in London. Pre finished fourth in the Munich games, stumbling to the finish after running one of the bravest races ever run. Any medal for Rupp would surpass Pre’s result. But in order to really match Pre he must put forth a Prefontaine-like effort. Another American Olympian, Allyson Felix, likes to quote Prefontaine’s saying that “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” If Rupp does realize his many gifts, he’ll have accomplished something very special, whether he medals or not.

Prefontaine at Munich Olympics

Last lap of 5000m race

from Munich Olympics (1972)
Creator: IOC
Posted by Ethan Tussey